Before we continue in Colossians…we got a whole 2 verses done last week :-)…I wanted to share a quick history lesson.
As I wrote those words I could just imagine some of the boys in the front row looking less than enthused at the idea. 🙂 You probably think you get tortured enough with history at school, eh?
Well, the good news is that there is no quiz afterward, it'll be pretty short, and it's going to be interesting because it is about us, not some dead king from centuries ago..who you'll have to memorize what the number after his name was.
"Was that George the III or George the IV?"
Although that kind of history can be quite interesting too if it is allowed to be.
Our Church's Founding
So, have you ever wondered why you are sitting here today?
And kids, I'm not talking about "Because my parents made me"…or adults, "Because I'd feel guilty if I played hooky to rest." 🙂
Instead, why is there even an Antrim Church of Christ? This area has, and has had, plenty of church-going alternatives. Why are we here?
Now…I'm sure I'll get parts of this wrong…for which I'll immediately blame Winslow. 🙂
No, I'll blame taking notes about it at an airport while being tired from a long week with too much travel…and from what is referred to as the telephone game, where every generation of sharing information messes it up a bit.
As I understand it…our humble little congregation started with the Crams and Deans meeting in each other's homes. Their faith was rewarded with others joining their gatherings, including Dick & Evelyn Davis and their kids.
Then someone had a bright idea…maybe they should get a preacher!
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
And another preacher at a church some had attended in Lexington, Massachusetts…whose name Winslow told me multiple times and my brain jettisoned just as often…suggested Jabe Pratt, a church planter from Abelene, Texas.
Jabe clearly wasn't a very picky man 🙂 and answered the call…arriving in the middle of a rainy night…and wondering if that kid who was waiting for him on a dirt road was bright enough to come in out of the rain. [Winslow] 🙂
God gave Jabe a heart for our congregation…and because so many of the attendees were from Antrim (9 from the Davises alone), they looked this direction for a building…with Jabe getting this place for only $25,000 from the Christian Scientists (who had purchased it from the Methodists before them).
That is why we are here today…and I'm talking less about the physical location than the reason an edifice was required.
And, off course, the ultimate founder was the Lord himself…with our church's lineage being able to be traced all the way back to Pentecost in Acts chapter 2.
Reacting to the News
Imagine you were the people back in Texas who got the news Jabe sent back about how God had formed our modest flock.
Do you have your Texas accent and cowboy boots and hat on?
How would you have reacted to Jabe's news? What, if anything, do you think you would have done (individually and as a group)? What advice would you have had for our toddler congregation? (No, I'm not saying a church of toddlers. :-))
How about as he shared the good news of it increasing in size, it's love for the Lord, and so on?
Now, as we hop back into the book that is behind my series of sermons called, "Dear Least Important Church…," I want you to consider those questions…
And, while you are at it…try to count the number of times the passage refers to Jesus…
Our reading this week is Colossians 1:3-14…where Paul still seems to be in introduction and greeting mode:
3 We always thank God, the Father of our on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him ["him" is not in the original Greek], bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved the Son, and italics not clearly one or the other).
Although perhaps a bit difficult to digest because Paul packs so much into so little space, those 12 verses are pretty straight forward. There is nothing to generate a bunch of controversy among scholars, although plenty, I suppose, to have them…and us preachers…bloviate about. 🙂
Getting a Letter from Billy Graham
I asked you to imagine being the folks back in Texas who got the news about our new church…now I want you to zoom northeast to Antrim…still about 40 years ago…and imagine you were one of the original members of this church.
You come in one Sunday and Jabe tells you he's got a letter from some really famous man of God. I was going to suggest Billy Graham…but I suspect there are other names that were more impressive to Church of God members back in the 70s.
Regardless of who…in my hypothetical situation…it's someone you highly respect…and who is really, really important in the Church of God world.
How would you react to getting that letter? When Jabe pulled it out of the envelope, flattened the pages out, and started reading to you…would you have listened rapt attention?
You bet you would!
Well, that "least important church" in Colossae almost definitely did the same…and would have listened closely to every word to hear what Paul thought of them, what advice he had for them, and so on.
Reaction, Advice, & Expectations
And even though the section we just read really does seem part of a continued Christian greeting and an introduction to the body of a letter, it has quite a bit of advice in it. We are going to go through it one more time, a bit slower, and look at three things:
First, how did Paul and others react to the news of the church at Colossae being formed?
Second, what advice did Paul have for the small church?
Third, what were Paul's expectations for that "least important church?"
Now…I'm going to combine the second and third ones into a single category since the line between advice and expectations can get blurry. Additionally, I'm going to allow myself a bit of poetic license in two ways.
It is believed that the church at Colossae was formed some time during Paul's third missionary journey…not by Paul…but during that time (and I suspect he at least deserves an "assist"). That would place it's establishment sometime early-to-mid 50s.
The letter itself was probably penned in the early 60s. Thus, the church couldn't really have been more than a decade old.
That is, not only Collosae it an "least important" church…it is a young church.
So, even though we don't know exactly how long it was between the church's inception, Paul learning of the church's formation, and the letter to the Colossians…I'm going to treat it as advice to a new church because, in the scheme of things, it was.
The second bit of poetic license I am going to allow myself is to mine advice and expectations that are implied. This is not an area of a pastoral letter where Paul says, "Thou shalt" or "if I were you I would"…but we can't ignore the implications of what he focuses on, indirectly commends them for, and so on.
Enough of the preamble…let's step through those verses again…just slightly slower…
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, (Colossians 1:3-6)
Not a whole bunch advice and reaction to a new church in those four verses…but if you'll allow me a little leeway…I'd suggest one bit of advice implicit one right in the first four words.
Advice: Thank God. That is, always thank God.
A very simple recommendation…but oft forgotten.
And that bit of advice also shows part of Paul's reaction (and that of others with him). They were happy to hear the news…it was so positive it warranted thanks. It reminds me of a simple parable Jesus told in Matthew 18:10-14:
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.
When Luke shares basically the same parable (from Jesus' mouth) about the 99 and 1 sheep it goes one step further and says:
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (Luke 15:7)
Just like Paul…just like the angels in heaven…we should react to the news with joy!
And in our prayers thank God…
What else? Again, it's more implicit than explicit…but notice how Paul reminds them of the gospel…"the word of the truth." It makes sense that any church, least important or not, should be reminded of the truth that led to their creation. In this case Paul also takes time to elaborate on the power of that message…one that "in the whole world is bearing fruit and increasing."
My friend Daniel, who you can blame for us experimenting with this expository stuff, looked at the verses we are going through today and also picked up on the gospel part…summarizing (punctuation is skipped to fit in 140 characters):
The gospel once it has saved is for the Christian our hope of heaven, the word of truth and the grace of God.
Advice and expectation: Remember the Gospel!
I'll also give Paul credit in those for verses for making it clear to the Colossians that they are not by themselves…that they are part of a much larger work of God. When times get tough, isn't it nice to be reminded you are not alone?
Let's look at the next two verses:
just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit (Colossians 1:7-8).
I separated out these two because you may remember last week it was suggested that Epaphras founded the church at Colossae. Well, here is big reason why.
Another interesting tidbit with regards to verse 7…The ESV Study Bible notes that some Greek manuscripts…where it says Epaphras "is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf"…have instead "is a faithful minister on our behalf." Not a huge change, but if "our" is correct, that would make Epaphras a direct representative of Paul.
You may have also noticed verse 8 is the second time in this short section that Paul has mentioned the Colossian's love (the first time was in verse 4). Again, this advice isn't explicit…but when you want to encourage a certain behavior by a child, what do you do?
Compliment them again and again for the behavior you want to repeat.
So…once more allowing me some leeway…from an advice and expectations standpoint:
Advice & expectation: Love.
In this case, love in the Spirit…in verse 4…love your brothers and sisters in Christ…your fellow saints.
Let's continue with verses 9-12:
9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:9-12).
This is where we get into the meat of our discussion today…including hearing how Paul and his compadres reacted to the news of the new church.
"From the day [they] heard" what did Paul and others with him do?
Prayed. Immediately. Unceasingly.
And this isn't an abnormal reaction. For instance, he said something similar to the saints in Thessalonica:
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).
With Colossae, "from the day we heard" they didn't "[cease] to pray" for them…and with Thessalonica they "always pray" for them.
And you can see that with both Colossae and Thessalonica he throws in some advice and expectations into the prayers…including these similar ones:
Colossae: "so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord"
Thessalonica: "that our God may make worthy of his calling" and "so that the name of the Lord Jesus may be glorified in you"
Colossae: "bearing fruit in every good work"
Thessalonica: "may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith"
But getting back to the three things we were watching for:
When you get great news about a new church…
Pray. Pray immediately. Pray continually.
Encourage them. Give them advice. Motivate them to do right…to bear fruit. To stick with the truth that saved them..
And when it comes to "Advice & Expectations"…these are the ones that came to mind from those verses:
- Follow God's will…and have spiritual wisdom and understanding
- Walk in a manner worth of the Lord (how we act as a Christian reflects back on God…don't tarnish His glory!)
- Bear fruit
- Grow! (That is, increase in knowledge)
- Give thanks to the One who deserves it
And there is one more thing in these verses that falls under advice and expectations:
- Have endurance and patience
Luckily, in the "endurance and patience" verse (11) Paul throws in joy ("may you be strengthened…for all endurance and patience with joy"). That brings some words from James in scope:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).
And these from Jesus:
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:12).
Colossae had a hard road ahead…and Paul wasn't going to hide it from them. They would need endurance and patience…Christendom was already being persecuted (it had been from the get-go). And perhaps the Lord partially inspired those "endurance and patience" words because not too long after Paul penned this letter Colossae may have been destroyed by an earthquake. We know it affected the region they were in…and it may explain why nothing really remains of that "least important" city.
Paul was no "life will be bliss" preacher.
But he also didn't miss out on the Joy.
Let's tackle the last two verses.
Actually…before we do…one quick note.
How would you like to be called "saints in light"?
Well you…and the Colossians…were in what we just read! 🙂
And "[sharing] in the inheritance of the saints in light" is reason for joy if there ever was one, isn't it?!
Now, let's tack the last two verses:
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14).
If being told that they were "saints in light" wasn't enough, this had to be an awesome reminder to the Colossians. They had been transferred "from the domain of darkness" to "the kingdom of his beloved Son."
And not only that…they have forgiveness!
Another good way to react to the news of a new church…remind them of what a magnificent gift they've been given…what a tremendous status they now have…and…although it it is with a light touch in this case…also remind them that it came at great cost. "In whom we have redemption" points to Jesus' death on the cross.
Just as we've learned in our lives…nothing is really free. Somebody pays.
Last, But Not Least…
Just in case…in no way am I saying that in these 12 verses that Paul has outlined exactly how we should react to the news of any new church and what advice each one should be given.
Paul had a reason to have special interest in the Colossians…they were fruit of his ministry. Yes, we should be joyful at the news of any new church or any new Christian…but we can't keep track of every one of them…and I personally think it only make sense that we focus on the ones that we have reason to…for example, if we lived 40 years ago in Abelene, Texas and Jabe sent us news of God's work in Antrim.
But, I do feel comfortable that one reaction should be constant.
Prayer. Well, prayer with joy! 🙂
When it comes to advice, just like Paul does in all his letters, we should tailor it to the recipients. However, there is one thing that should be common in all our reactions to the news of a new church or a new Christian…and we we haven't even discussed it yet today.
Anyone want to guess what it is?
We read twelve verses. How many times was Jesus mentioned? You were counting it back when I asked you too, weren't you…? 🙂
He was mentioned from 5 to 9 times (there are a few pronouns and one "Lord" that may point to Jesus or the Father). And speaking of the Father…I would be remiss to not mention that He is mentioned 8 to 12 times…and the Spirit is mentioned yet another. So, between all of them, a member of the Godhead is mentioned 18 times in 12 verses.
One constant in advice and expectations is…
God…especially in the form of the One in whom we have redemption…the one the Father sent to us.
So, how should we react to the news of a new church or a new convert?
With prayer…and with joy.
What advice should we give them?
Because if they focus on Jesus, everything else will fall into place.
"Dear least important church, we pray continuously you keep your eyes upon Jesus…"